Victorian Hampstead

The 19th century was a period of rapid growth and change, both nationally and in Hampstead. But from being a largely rural and agricultural nation, the process of becoming an industrial and mercantile power led to huge population growth in Hampstead as well as major urban development. Whereas in 1812 a field across the road from the church was bought as a burial ground, by the end of the century the whole parish was built up. And wider social and economic changes affected public administration and services like schools and hospitals. 


From 1814 to 1862

From a contemporary map, it is clear that in 1814 Hampstead was still a small settlement surrounded by countryside, albeit a settlement that was acquiring schools, a new workhouse and other facilities. Activity seems to have been concentrated on the town centre and parish church.

[Insert map  – Hampstead in 1814, from Kennedy (1906)]

But by about 1820 speculative development started in earnest – tenemented lodging houses for the growing working population, and smaller houses for the middle class. Pond Street was built and the area between it and the High Street began to be filled in. In 1826 the parish had about 8,000 inhabitants, more than three-quarters living in the town or near Pond Street. Hampstead’s clean air and proximity to London attracted merchants, lawyers, doctors, politicians, literary men, artists and musicians – giving Hampstead a distinctive and sometimes exclusive character.

London continued to expand to accommodate people streaming into the towns and cities – initially as agriculture was mechanised in the mid 18th century and rural jobs were lost, and then as the great industrial and commercial revolution drew people into the cities. One of the most significant consequences for Hampstead was the wholesale development of its large estates. The Finchley New Road was opened in 1829, and the surrounding areas, mainly fields with a few scattered houses, began to be built up. Chalk Farm was developed from around 1827/30, Adelaide Road and South Hampstead from the 1840s, Kilburn and Belsize in the 1850s, Lyndhurst Terrace in the 1860s.

Hampstead’s population grew from 10,000 in 1841 to 15,000 in 1851 and 19,000 in 1861. And the character of the town continued to change – gas lighting began to be introduced in the 1840s, and the new parish schools were built in 1856/62. And new forms of public administration – in particular the formation of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855 – removed some of the functions (and therefore power) of the Hampstead Vestry.

Hampstead’s major growth period

The next 50 years (between 1870 and the start of the first World War) saw the most rapid period of Hampstead’s growth, however.

New housing was developed in what became Fitzjohn’s Avenue (mid 1870s) and in the side roads off Rosslyn and Haverstock Hills (1870s and 1880s). And the ‘Town Improvement Scheme’ of the 1880s demolished the old alleys and slum buildings that had sprung up in the town gardens, replacing the tenements (places like Bradleys Buildings – where the Everyman and the Moreland Hall now is) with modern accommodation (like Oriel Place – paid for by the Wells Trust) and creating the streetscape that we see today.

[Insert map of Hampstead in 1860s – include source]

[Insert image of Yorkshire Grey Yard – include source]

Perhaps fuelled by the arrival of the North London Railway in 1860, and the extension of the Metropolitan line in 1879 to Finchley Road, West Hampstead and Kilburn, Hampstead’s population grew to over 45,000 by 1881 and 82,000 in 1901. Hampstead was no longer a separate town but was now firmly a part of London.

Even so, in 1888 the view from the churchyard to the south and south-west was still over fields and streams – the development of Frognal and the original Manor farm did not begin until towards the end of the 19th century.

[insert picture – View from churchyard, 1888]

It was not until after the death of the heir to the manor in 1869 that the original Manor farm was finally given over for development. This took place in stages – initially in the 1870s around Frognal Lane and (what is now) Reddington Road, then down to the western boundary of the estate (now Priory Road), and reaching as far as Platts Lane and Childs Hill by the end of the century. In parallel, in the 1880s and 1890s Hampstead saw the rise of mansion flats in the borough – Gardnor Mansions, for example, was built in Church Row in 1898 on the site of a number of original houses – as well as the Bath House in Flask Walk (1888) and new libraries in the 1890s.

Saving the Heath

Only development on the Heath was resisted – originally an area of 240 acres in 1866. This was not without difficulty – in the 1840s and 1850s the lord of the manor, Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson, had attempted to build on common land adjoining its eastern edge. The Heath was only saved by the consistent opposition of local people over a 20 year period and by his eventual death. This land was finally bought from his estate and made public property in 1872. In 1884 a public campaign was launched to add other adjoining estates to the Heath and, over time, was successful in acquiring Parliament Hill fields (1889), Golders Hill Park (1898), the Heath extension (1905), and the grounds of Kenwood House (1922/4).

Prominent citizens

Throughout the 19th century, Hampstead had had a significant population of professional and commercially successful men – bankers, lawyers, merchants, stockbrokers, and other professional and educated men. These were dominant in directing Hampstead’s affairs. Briefly, in the 1870s and 1880s, tradesmen were influential in the old town, which then developed a reputation as rather backward in cultural and civic matters. But from the end of the 1880s Hampstead also included an increasing number of artists, architects, scientists, writers and actors. And by about 1900 professional and literary men were in control and there was a revival in Hampstead’s intellectual life.


This page was last updated on April 26th, 2012.


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